|Photo by Jason Briscoe on Unsplash|
Catherine gave her a cool smile. "Join me, please. Nicole, right? And do call me Catherine. After all, you are sleeping with my husband. We're past formalities."
Nicole paled. Catherine had to give her some credit, though. She still sat down at the table. So many young women would flee, or try to deny it, or make excuses. Nicole just sat, silently, waiting for Catherine to make the next move.
"Let's order, shall we? My treat, of course. Although I suppose we could say it's Frank's treat since it's his company funding our bank account." Catherine chuckled to herself, enjoying this too much. Nicole was still not sure what was going on, and remained silent.
Catherine snapped her menu shut, startling Nicole. She laid her menu to the side and nodded at the waiter, hovering at a discreet distance. "Order what you wish, dear. I won't tell Frank if it doesn't fit in The Plan. I remember his expectations all too well. Then, we should get to know each other."
After placing their orders, Nicole finally gathered some courage. "Why am I here?"
"I just told you, we should get to know each other. It's not your fault I married a cheating bastard," Catherine said, nonchalantly.
"But I'm your husband's mistress."
"So?" Catherine paused to thank the waiter, who was placing their food on the table. "Listen, Nicole. I like you. You are polite, you have backbone to show up at my invitation and even more to actually sit and eat with me. Even better, you are keeping Frank happy. I realized a long time ago that marrying him was a mistake. You see, I used to be in your shoes."
Nicole was still processing this information. Catherine was okay with this? "I'm sorry, I'm a bit confused. What do you mean?"
Again Catherine laughed to herself. "You actually remind me of myself when I first met Frank. There was no current Mrs. Anderson at the time, though. He'd been briefly married but divorced a year before we met. And yes, I checked to make sure. Public records are easy to search." She paused to sip her water. "I let him sweep me off my feet. He was so charming, so attentive. So preoccupied with image, but charming me into going along with his demands. Eat the correct foods, wear the correct clothes, stay the correct weight. The jewelry he gave me as gifts were subtle demands to wear the correct jewels, a walking billboard of his net worth. I was so caught up in the fantasy that I married him."
"But you kept your last name?" interrupted Nicole. "I didn't know who you were when I got your invitation. I thought this was an interview."
"In a way, it is," said Catherine. "I wanted to get to know you for myself. And yes, I kept my last name. I was carried away, not completely lost. I never felt the need to change my name like I was his property, even though he began to treat me as if I was."
"Why are you telling me all this?" asked Nicole. "By all accounts, you should be screaming at me or trying to run me off. It's what I would do if I met the woman sleeping with my husband."
"Oh, Nicole. You see, I like you. You've got a spark. And I don't like Frank so much any more, but divorce is too messy and too complicated. You keep him satisfied, and I don't have to worry about him. Also, you are a huge improvement over his other mistresses. The intern, the secretary, the stripper who thought he would save her... " Catherine shuddered at the memories. "I know how he met you; I actually made sure it would happen. But he can't know that I know about you. If he finds out, he will end this affair and try to romance me and I just cannot bear the thought of that. So I will help you keep him as long as this is our little secret. Has he taken you to the apartment yet?"
"No, he hasn't," Nicole said.
"Oh, he will," Catherine replied. "I want you to live in it full time. Not with him, of course. I still need him to come home to keep up appearances in public. But you can have entertain him there all you want, and have the occasional sleepover. However, we have to make him think it's his idea. Your living situation is difficult right now, correct?"
"My roommate just moved out and I'm trying to find a new one, but how did you know?"
"I have many sources, Nicole. It takes a team to manage the secret life of Frank Anderson. He'll likely take you there soon. Don't ask if you can move in, but plant seeds. Tell him you're worried about losing your apartment, that you're struggling to make it, but refuse any money he will offer you. I predict within a month you'll be moved into the apartment permanently."
Nicole was quiet as they finished their meals and Catherine signed the bill. Catherine stood up to leave, then paused beside Nicole. "I know this is a lot to take in. But trust me, this is the perfect solution for both of us. Enjoy yourself, dear."
With that, Catherine walked out the door.